TAMPA — Inside Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Halloween night, the University of South Florida’s offense went from frightful to borderline delightful.
“When the offense first drove and scored a touchdown, I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to win this game,’ ” Bulls senior defensive end Ryne Giddins said. “We’ve actually got a team now. The offense had our back.’’
USF, in fact, did not win the game, falling 35-23 against the Cougars in a mistake-filled effort that featured a school-record 19 penalties for 170 yards.
But the Bulls ended a streak of 13 consecutive quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown. True freshman quarterback Mike White, passing for 311 yards and two touchdowns in his first start, provided an element that couldn’t be quantified.
“Mike White, he just brought a new life to the offense,’’ USF junior offensive tackle Darrell Williams said.
And the Bulls (2-6, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) expect to bring a new-found swagger into tonight’s game against the Memphis Tigers (2-6, 0-4) at Raymond James Stadium.
“I think they’ve seen now, ‘All right, (the offense) works,’ so they’re more excited at practice,’’ USF offensive coordinator Walt Wells said. “The biggest thing going forward is keeping (White) healthy and consistent and growing. At the end of this four-game run, maybe then we can tell what we really need to hone in on in recruiting and developing our offseason program.
“But it’s going in the right direction.’’
USF figures to be even more efficient tonight with the return of senior running back Marcus Shaw, who gained 34 yards at Houston but is 100 percent for the first time since suffering an injured hamstring Oct. 5.
“He’s ready to roll,’’ Bulls coach Willie Taggart said of Shaw, who had three 100-yard games and a 94-yard effort in the first month. “He’s ready to enjoy these last four ballgames. He wants them to be the best four ballgames he has had.’’
If that’s the case, USF might have a spectacular finish.
In the first month, Shaw carried the offense as the passing game struggled. Defense and special teams helped USF to its first two victories in the AAC. At Houston, without much of a running threat, White’s passing opened things up.
Could a complete game be far behind?
“Their offense has found a groove,’’ Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “I know coach Taggart’s mindset and the way he would like his offense to look is probably different than it looked when he inherited that program. It is two different philosophies. He’s finding ways to meld those together so it looks the way he wants it to look.’’
White’s efficiency will be interesting tonight as he faces the Memphis defense, ranked 16th nationally, that studied his tendencies on film. Heading into Houston, White was more of an unknown.
He didn’t seem rattled on the road, utilizing 10 different receivers and consistently placing the ball in just the right spot.
“More than anything, I think Mike is relishing that opportunity to be a great teammate and do his part to help the team,’’ Taggart said. “He doesn’t have to do much more than he did (at Houston). Just continue to try to get better.’’
“It will be interesting to see how he handles some success,’’ Wells said. “People are patting him on the back and everything seems great. But Mike’s an even-keeled kid. He has been around it for a long time. He has been successful before. He understands you’re only as good as your last game.’’